The Hoboken political playing field gets leveled
By Ron Hine | FBW | December 12, 2013
These results stand in marked contrast to the 2005 mayoral race won by David Roberts who collected a staggering $1.4 million dollars to defeat then Councilwoman Carol Marsh outspending her by a margin of approximately ten to one. Roberts won with 58% of the vote to Marsh’s 42%. In 2001, Roberts won election as mayor after receiving large contributions from professional firms that later won generous, no-bid service contracts with the City of Hoboken. The record spending in the 2005 mayoral campaign resulted in contributions from these same firms plus large donations from real estate developers who had approvals pending for their Hoboken projects.
The difference in campaign funding has resulted from a series of ordinances enacted in Hoboken that have ended the practice of pay-to-play, where firms make large political contributions with the expectation of securing municipal contracts or approvals for development projects. All of these ordinances were initiated by a local group called People for Open Government (POG) based on model ordinances drafted by the Citizens Campaign, a state-wide group in New Jersey headed by Harry Pozycki.
In 2004, Mayor Roberts and the Hoboken City Council resisted appeals from POG to pass the first pay-to-play model ordinance entitled Public Contracting Reform. In response, utilizing New Jersey’s Initiative & Referendum statute, POG placed the ordinance on the ballot in the November 2004 election. Hoboken voters passed the the ordinance by an overwhelming margin. Subsequently, POG successfully pressed the City to pass a developer pay-to-play ordinance under threat of another ballot initiative. For the past eight years, these two ordinances have effectively dried up campaign contributions from professional service firms seeking municipal contracts and real estate developers with projects in redevelopment areas.
In the first several years as mayor, David Roberts raised most of his campaign funds from from local developers and city contractors. In these initial years, the largest contributors with City contracts were Sarkisian Florio & Kenny ($35,700), Scarinci & Hollenbeck ($31,850), Schoor DePalma ($29,300), NW Financial ($26,900), Ernst & Young ($25,800) and Allied Risk Services ($21,600). These funds helped the mayor get elected and then maintain his slim five to four council majority in the 2003 council race.
The expectation that the anti-pay-to-play ordinances would level the political playing field has been fulfilled. The influence of money in Hoboken politics has been diminished dramatically. Frank Raia ran for City Council on Councilman Tim Occhipinti’s slate this past November. He could have been the exception to the rule, having contributed $122,000 to their campaign. Yet, those funds had little influence in this past election since that slate trailed far behind most of the other candidates.
Political turmoil and pay-to-play ordinances level the political playing field
POG takes mayor and City to court for campaign finance violations
Major contributions solicited from developers and city contractors
Developers pay to play at Hoboken City Hall by writing big checks